The death of a U.S. Army veteran who drowned in the Mississippi River this week is tragic, but it’s not unusual for victims suffering from mental illness to fall through the cracks, a mental health advocate said Friday.
“If one door closes, push on the next one,” said Sue Abderholden, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.
Shannon David Shaw, 49, had sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder for years, his wife, Kristi, said.
On Monday, Stearns County Sheriff’s deputies picked him up at a St. Cloud gas station after the owner of a pontoon boat found him sleeping in it. Shaw asked to be taken to the St. Cloud VA Health Care System hospital.
Authorities say VA hospital officials told them that Shaw needed to be medically cleared before they could take him. Deputies then took him to St. Cloud Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed that Shaw was evaluated and discharged about 4 p.m.
About 40 minutes later, witnesses saw him walking into the river with his clothes on near the 700 block of 5th Avenue N. He went under when he reached the middle of the Mississippi. His body was recovered Tuesday night.
The VA hospital in St. Cloud does not have emergency or acute care services and would send those cases to a nearby hospital, spokesman Barry Venable said Friday. Without a waiver signed by Shaw’s family, Venable could not discuss Shaw’s case.
“We are sorry about this tragic incident,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the family.”
Abderholden said Shaw may not have needed hospital-level care, but could have been referred to a mental health crisis team or professional.
“He should not have been sent out alone,” she said.
She said each county has mobile health crisis teams and anybody needing help can text “MN” to 741741. In the Twin Cities, people can also call **CRISIS (**274747) to be connected with their county’s mental health crisis team. “Somebody can come to where the patient is,” she said.
Shaw’s friends and family members started a GoFundMe page to raise money for his funeral and to help others in need. Kristi Shaw said a service will be held this month for her husband.
She also hopes to spur changes at the VA.
“They need to change something about the system,” she said. “I don’t want any vet, or anybody who needs help, to be turned away. I don’t want someone else to be lost this way.”